Designed for Children II – Pushing the Envelope

What is a Children’s Book? I’ve shared some beautiful examples of children’s books by famous graphic designers, and recently I stumbled across a couple more that really push the envelope of what a reading experience designed for children can be.

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The Book with No Pictures

From the Vanity Fair article:

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures comes by its title honestly; the book is one filled with only words, in different fonts and colors and sizes. Funny, creative, and smart, the book, which forces the reader to say a slew of ridiculous words, is guaranteed to get a laugh out of any kid you know

I love so much about this. I love the idea of showing children the power of words, and the sense of exploration in where words can take them. And I love the idea of highlighting that power, and making the words themselves the hero, rather than any accompanying images. It hits home at an early age the power of communication, and that old adage that the pen is more powerful than the sword.

And making the words, as the star of the show, hilarious and delightful and fun and playful and imaginative and silly, just hits home how much fun reading can be—the best lesson there is!

Novak, known for his career as a comedian, started this project because he says he loves reading to children, and getting a laugh out of them. Starting perhaps with the idea that a comedian has to play to his audience, Novak wanted to explore how a children’s book could feel like it was on the child’s side. As he said in an interview with The Atlantic:

“If the adult had to say silly things, I knew the kid would feel very powerful and would feel that books are very powerful. Working backwards, I realized that if there were no pictures, it would be an even more delightful trick: The kid is taking a grown-up style book and using it against the grown-up.”

This idea that books are powerful reminds me of that Carl Sagan quote, which I wrote about before, and love so much:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” —Carl Sagan

Anyone that can teach children that books are works of magic is doing something right in my book!

 

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Little Nemo in Slumberland

The other book I wanted to share with you is an old classic: Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay. Recently some friends purchased the large format (10×13) Vol 1 of the Complete Collection of this classic comic strip originally published from 1905 to 1911. It is, admittedly, a little early for their newborn to enjoy it, but they are eagerly awaiting the age they can crack it open and enjoy these stories with their son.

From the Amazon product description:

Winsor McCay’s beautiful dreamscapes appeared in the New York Herald between 1905 and 1911, and the comic strip “Little Nemo” is considered by some to be the best, most brilliant comic strip ever published. Six-year-old Nemo (Latin for no one) falls asleep in his bed and is transported to the fantastical Slumberland—at the request of King Morpheus—where he encounters all kinds of strange creatures. At the end of each trip he wakes up, unsure of what was real and what was a dream. The exquisitely detailed, art-nouveau-style colored panels in this edition are reproduced from rare, vintage file-copy pages. Alongside George Herriman’s bizarre Krazy Kat, McCay’s work helped to create the grammar of comic art. This Little Nemo collection—an entertaining romp into Slumberland—also provides a lovely glimpse into the origins of an art form.

Often listed in the same category as Calvin and Hobbes (my personal all-time-favorite), Little Nemo is no vapid child’s tale with the same old tired stories. The images are fantastic, truly works of art, and the creative plotlines are an almost magical-realism style exploration of the realm of imagination and dreams. Its more mature approach to fantastical stories helps it appeal to both adults and children, and its role in defining and establishing the comic genre gives it a historic and cultural significance.

And it’s kind of just fun to read from a 10×13 book! It’s a good example of the format of the physical object itself giving a playfulness and importance to the content.

Both of these books are superlative examples of what a children’s book can be, and would be a fun addition to any child’s library!

 

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Designing the Holidays

Holiday weekends can be jam-packed with parties, gift wrapping, cookie baking, envelope stamping, and general fun times and to do lists. If you need a break, here’s a quick post full of some lovely holiday cards featuring beautiful typography and clean, simple graphics. Enjoy!

From left to right,
Top Row:
1) “Wish you a merry Christmas!” by Áron Jancsó
2) unknown
3) Holiday card from Trollback+Company
4) Christmas illustrations for Fossil by Dustin Wallace

Middle Row:
1) Eames card
2) Designed by Erin Jang of The Indigo Bunting

Bottom Row:
1) HWT Star Ornaments from Hamilton Wood Type
2) “Merry Paper cut” by Silvia Raga
3) unknown
4) Art directed by Seth Nickerson

Off the Page: The Undulating Words of Gabriel García Marquez

The interplay between literature and the various visual arts—paintings that tell stories, or books that describe paintings, or any other cross-artform conversation—has always been fascinating to me. And being the book lover that I am, artwork based on the written word itself has always captured my imagination, from the Winnie-the-Pooh movies I watched as a kid, to the Sochi Olympics Opening Ceremonies.

Winnie-the-Pooh words in the rain

Sochi Opening Ceremonies -  great Russian poets and writers

So when I discovered this “ocean of words” honoring Gabriel García Marquez, from Spain-based creative group Think Big Factory and creative agency Barrabes Meaning, I was absolutely mesmerized.

think-big-factory-950x644

From an article on PSFK.com:

Choosing a particular motif to trace through his work—in this case, the ocean—they set up an intricate multimedia installation involving 10,000 words 3D printed in real time.

Travesía por los estados de la palabra,” which premiered at the international art fair of Madrid, ARCOmadrid in February, was inspired by a speech given by García Marquez at the First International Congress of the Spanish Language in Zacatecas (Mexico) in 1997 called “Bottle the sea for the God of words.”

The speech is about “the power of words in the image era”—a still-relevant concept, especially in the Internet’s zeitgeist of diminished word use and 140-word tweets.

It is conceptually, visually, experientially stunning. I love this homage to “the power of words in the image era,” and the role words play in the greater social landscape, which is so evocatively visualized in this ocean. The sense of movement, based off of real-time data of word-use on Twitter, gives me the same sense of wonder as the starling murmurations I was inspired by for one of my favorite school projects.

The technology they harnessed to build this piece is also super interesting. More from the PSFK article:

The choice and arrangement of the waves behind the words is affected by the contemporary use of Márquez’s words about water by the general populace. The motion of the 3D-printed words is determined by data extracted from Twitter through a program designed in openFrameworks.

The room, on a larger scale, is a representation of what the creators’ software does, taking the elusive qualities of language and transforming them into a physical manifestation. This is made especially evident through the tirelessly working 3D printers that remain on display, and the words that flow ceaselessly through the room.

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It is so fitting that this creative exploration, pushing the envelope for the experience of the written word, was done to honor the memory of a man whose writing pushed the boundaries of the believable. I was fascinated by Gabriel García Marquez’ works, and wrote my own, rather humble, memorial to the man in this blogpost; it is lovely to see that not only will his stories live on, but his ideas will inspire art and conversations like this, still very relevant to our society today.

Use Your Words! The Creative Typography of Ben Wiseman

I recently discovered a mini treasure trove of book covers designed by Ben Wiseman (view his portfolio). He seems to be best known for bold, simple graphic illustrations, but I was completely bowled over by his typographic book covers. These covers focus on the creative design of the letterforms, and imbue the titles themselves with subtle significance and a sense of visual delight.

I was impressed with his creativity and the range of styles that he was able to bring to this collection of book covers. From clean, vector san-serifs for The Shallows to rough, textured, hand-painted letterforms for The Melting Season, Wiseman brings rich visual detail and attention-grabbing graphics that are appropriate to each title. I also love his bright color palettes—a skill he no doubt honed as an illustrator, Wiseman’s color combinations bring a fun energy to the typography. These six are some of my favorites:

 

I came across a fun interview with Ben Wiseman talking about his career and design process. It was interesting to read his thoughts on what makes a good cover, and his favorite examples of this artform:

“A great book jacket is one that makes you pick it up. It can be a great photo or a great illustration or just a great concept. But the best ones are the ones that stop you in the store and make you look. As for favourites, I love Paul Rand’s cover for HL Menken’s Prejudices and Alvin Lustig’s Lorca.”

You can how these two covers, with their hand-drawn type and bold, arresting style, have influenced Wiseman’s work.

Another part of the interview that I enjoyed was about his process. Wiseman is thorough and reads the whole book to brainstorm ideas, but he also places an admirable faith in “happy accidents”to get to his final design:

“I always read the book, and spend the whole time bouncing ideas around in my head. Usually I might have a couple of ideas halfway through the book, and usually those won’t go anywhere. But once I’ve sat with the book for a while, and thought about it for a few days, things usually start coming together. And after I start working, there are hopefully some happy accidents that occur.”

Looking at Wiseman’s  book covers I was also interested to note that he submitted a cover for John Bertram’s Recovering Lolita project that I wrote about in a previous post, Lo. Lee. Ta. A Collection of Covers. This cover is a combination of an obsessive, hand-written “Lolita” over and over, censored and hidden by black marks and a clean, white ripped paper with the author’s name. Appropriately intriguing, foreboding and an unsettling combination of innocent and dark that hints at the themes of the book without revealing too much. And, once again, very much type-centric.

Lolita

While I think Wiseman has made a name for himself mostly through his illustration, I will certainly be keeping my eye out for more of his great typographic covers in the future.

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More Information about the Book Covers:

The Melting Season: paperideas.it/paperzine/news/4140-Ben_Wiseman,_book_jacket_designer,_New_York

The Shallows: bookcoverarchive.com/book/the_shallows

The Collective: flickr.com/photos/wwnorton/7296881744

The Tragedy of Arthur: isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?368149

And Then There’s This: bookcoverarchive.com/book/and_then_theres_this

Epigenetics: flickr.com/photos/wwnorton/5704006427

Lolitathebookoftheday.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/lolita/

Capable of Working Magic

I’m in the process of putting together my final portfolio for my MFA and looking around for ways to communicate my design beliefs, so I’ve been reading a lot more quotes than usual. There are two that have really stuck with me, one that speaks to the sheer delight and amazing capabilities of books and another that speaks to the purposeful nature of design, and I like them so much I thought I’d share.

Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan

The first is from Carl Sagan, an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, and author. He clearly had a great passion and respect for the capabilities of science and technology, a deep-seated wonder at our world and the way it works, and an appreciation for books. Those qualities are shown in the following quote, where he describes the incredible power of books:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”—Carl Sagan

That quote just gets me. It really captures how truly incredible books are. I remember thinking a very similar thing (albeit not quite so eloquently) in high school when I was reading Plato’s Apology. Our class was carefully analyzing the subtle points of Plato’s logic, and I remember sitting back for a second and thinking, This guy has been dead for 2,300+ years, more time than I can really grasp, and yet his thoughts are here, today, in this book in front of me. So many people have thought about and debated his ideas for literally millenia, ever since he originally wrote them down. How crazy is that!

And the designer in me today loves Sagan’s description of writing—”lots of funny dark squiggles.” So often people overlook the importance of typography because they take it completely for granted that these black shapes on a page, or on a screen in our case, have a meaning that is decipherable to people. How did a circle become the letter “o”, that can be used next to two perpendicular lines (“t”) to create a word “to” that has so many meanings and helps hold sentences together? It’s amazing, when you sit down and really think about it.

But one thing to remember is that quote by Sagan was from his 1980 tv show and book, Cosmos, when there was no such thing as a Kindle, an iPad, or an ebook. The first personal computer was released by Apple in 1984, and the great wave of technology that has completely changed the shape of reading has all come since Sagan originally described the magic of books.

Cosmos-older edition

So I hope he’ll forgive us if we take the liberty of expanding the meaning of his quote to refer to the many different ways that thoughts are expressed by their authors and conveyed out to the greater world. Today, that amazing ability is accomplished not just by “a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts” but also by screens of all shapes that support ebooks, and really the very many different reading and publishing platforms available, including this post published on the internet via WordPress.

We could argue about whether platforms like Twitter, which allow people to author only very concise “books,” should be included, but if you are willing to admit Hemingway’s famous six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) counts, then I think Twitter must also be included.

You could argue that really what captured Sagan’s imagination and appreciation is the longevity of the thoughts in the form of a book, and how they can connect people from distant epochs, and therefore today’s technology doesn’t count as it will probably not be accessible 2,000 years from now. In fact, its a pretty safe bet that even 20 years from now technology will have so thoroughly changed that many things will no longer be accessible (floppy disk, anyone?). But not all writing has lasted that long, and many authors works have been lost over the centuries. It’s always been a process of saving and passing along only the best works of literature, and that is the same challenge we face today, just with a much larger magnitude of written work.

So I, for one, would like to extend Sagan’s wonder at books and the power of written communication to include the many different innovative forms of ebooks and digital communication popular today.

Paola Antonelli
Paola Antonelli, curator for architecture and design at MOMA

The second quote by Paola Antonelli is related, but talks about design as a whole, and how design is fundamentally about caring how something works, not just what it looks like.

“People think that design is styling. Design is not style. It’s not about giving shape to the shell and not giving a damn about the guts. Good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need, and beauty to produce something that the world didn’t know it was missing.”—Paola Antonelli

In relationship to books, this mean that it’s all well and good if the cover looks great, but fundamentally what’s important about the design of a book is how the format of the book accomplishes its goal, namely, getting someone to pick it up and be able to read and understand it. To enable what Sagan loves: “across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you.”It means, for ebooks, that all the flashy interactivity in the world is useless, and in fact detrimental, if it doesn’t somehow serve to improve the reading experience.

And this to me is the amazing challenge of design. How do you design something that makes people’s lives better? How do you use the tools of aesthetics, of typography, of color theory, of all sorts of “cognitive science” and “beauty” that Antonelli talks about, and perhaps more than ever today, use the tools of technology to design something that “the world didn’t know it was missing?”

What a lofty, and yet worthwhile challenge! Could a designer ever hope to accomplish anything better than to give the world something it didn’t know it was missing?

Hey, Type Girl

The Hey, Girl meme has spread far and wide, and at this point is rather old hat. But typography jokes are few and far between, and as we type nerds  get so few chances to share our industry inside jokes I couldn’t resist sharing this collection, despite its lack of timeliness. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little extra Ryan Gosling to your day… Enjoy!

Hey Girl Leading Hey Girl Fleurons Hey Girl Ligature Continue reading Hey, Type Girl

Designed for Children

I’ve written a number of posts on design for adult and young adult books, but I’ve yet to feature any books for younger audiences. However, I recently discovered that a few famous graphic designers have made their own children’s picture books, which approach youthful subjects with really beautiful composition and color. One of the most notable authors is probably Paul Rand, who illustrated books written by his wife Ann Rand.

Ann & Paul Rand

Paul Rand is perhaps best known for his logos for ABC, UPS and IBM, and some of his advertisements and posters. While Rand spent most of his life designing for adult audiences, his aesthetic has a simple, colorful, bold look that works really well in children’s books.

rand-logos

rand-posters

The Rands’ children’s books include the three I’m sharing below, Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words, I Know a Lot of Things, and Little 1. The books have different topics and slightly different visual styles, but are all recognizably Paul Rand’s aesthetic. The text of the books also has a lot of fun word play, from the number puns in Little 1 to playfully illustrated homophones in Sparkle and Spin.

rand-grid2

Sparkle and Spin: A Book About Words

This is probably my favorite of the bunch, as it talks about the power and importance of the written language. Despite the simple text, you can tell that the author is very aware of the significance of the written word in our society, and the playful typographic layouts demonstrate a masterful grasp of letterforms and type. Aesthetically, the book design uses a bright, limited color palette and large blocks and shapes of color to fill the pages. And you’ve got to love a children’s book that breaks out the word “tintinnabulate”! Continue reading Designed for Children